INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The NAACP held a forum for the Indian River County School Board, sheriff’s and county commissioners’ candidates on Monday.
Kevin Browning wrote questions for and moderated the school board’s and sheriff’s panel. Attorney Phyllis Gillespie wrote questions for and moderated the county commissioners’ panel.
There are two seats open on the school board, District 3 and District 5. District 3 includes the central area of the City of Vero Beach and the southwest part of the county. District 5 includes the barrier island.
It is a nonpartisan race and although the school board is comprised of five seats matching five districts, corresponding to the County Commission’s five districts, all electors may vote for each district candidate.
Candidates for District 3 are Laura Zorc, Douglas Wight and Stephen Sczurek.
NAACP President Tony Brown delayed the forum until Sczurek’s candidate qualifications were confirmed. He will not appear on the ballot, but it was determined he is a qualified write-in candidate for the Nov. 8 election.
Candidates for District 5 are Tiffany Justice and John Kim.
Two of Browning’s questions dealt with race relations on campus. His first question was on the Indian River County School District’s desegregation order, which has been in effect since 1968. Among other requirements, the district is to recruit black teachers until they meet the black-student population. It is also to close the achievement gap between black and white students.
Zorc said, “We dropped the ball and it has not been a priority for the district. I will push the supervisor, school staff and other school board members to make it a priority and to raise the graduation rate of black students, which is at a miserable 57 percent currently.”
Sczurek said he would research the district’s hiring procedures and the number of applications received and turned down by minorities. “I don’t understand how we haven’t complied with the order,” he said.
Kim said, “We must strive to comply with the order.” The district needs to raise teacher salaries to attract minorities, he said, which start at $38,000 compared to the $40,000 state average.
Justice said the district hired Husch Blackwell to study the issue and a report is due out the end of July. Minority teacher recruitment is insufficient and “cultural competency training for teachers” is necessary.
Browning said the NAACP requested the school board ban the Confederate flag except in classrooms as an historical, educational device, but was refused.
Both Zorc and Kim said banning it would erode freedom of speech. Zorc said North Carolina is trying to ban the American flag. Kim said the American flag could be interpreted as the symbol of the extermination of millions of Native Americans. “Were would it stop?” he said.
Both said teaching cultural awareness would be more meaningful.